Brad Cavanagh

Brad Cavanagh


No pain, no gain.  We have heard this tired, old cliché a million times.

The thing is it’s true.  There is no renewal without some degree of pain.  This is true for each of us as individuals, for communities, and even for whole nations.

I recently injured my shoulder.  It happened when I was failing to act my age.  I wasn’t purposely trying to act younger or be younger.  It was more of a subconscious event.  I’m fully aware I am not young anymore, but it still takes some moments of pain to realize this time of renewal is upon me.  This episode just happened to be a bit more intensely painful than usual.

Many of us view growing older as an ominous event.  Our bodies give out, our relationships change, and our memories fade at varying speeds.  Yet, aging is actually a time of renewal.  With each passing phase, new doors open in our lives.  Opportunities not available to our younger selves suddenly appear.  Relationships deepen to new levels previously unknown to us.

As one chapter ends, another begins, and with this transition comes pain.  We hurt for the past and we feel the acute discomfort of the future.  This is renewal.  It is a rebirth and a rebranding of ourselves.  You can try to ignore the pain or fight against it, but reality will prove the only way to end it is to roll with it.

Rather than impossibly struggling to reshape the past, embrace the change and form the future.

Community Renewal

Communities experience the same growing pains.  My community of Dubuque, Iowa is going through a renewal.  We have changed over the years.  Most noticeably, our collective skin has become darker.  When I was growing up here in the 80s and 90s, we were whiter than white.  Most of us were of Irish or German descent and most of us were Catholic.

Since that time, racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity has found its way to our small Midwestern city.  The city government and civic leaders, to their credit, have rolled with this change.  They have started initiatives and fostered community conversation meant to help new and life-long citizens embrace the renewal.

Photograph via Jakob Owens.

As you would expect based on our experiences in the U.S., this change has come with pain.  Not everyone enjoys renewal like this.  As humans, we like to surround ourselves with others like us.  It’s simply who we are.

It is our humanness, though, that gives us the capacity to accept and embrace renewal.  We have the ability to gain new knowledge, and experience diversity and change in new ways.  Though it takes years of pain, communities can and do grow.  My community is trying to roll with the change.  We are working to shape our future to embrace a new identity.

Renewal of the whole

Community change is one thing, but the changing face of a country is exponentially bigger and more complex.  What we are experiencing now in the United States is renewal on a massive scale.  We are changing in color, in faith, in language, and in many other facets of culture.

It is uncomfortable.  It’s scary.  In the end, it is simply change.  We can roll with the wave and ride it into the future, or we can swim against the current until we sink to the bottom.

We can embrace renewal or agonize over what was.

When it comes to renewal, the only true way forward is to accept the pain for what it is.  It is the end of one era and the beginning of another.  The sooner we roll with this truth, the sooner we can get to shaping our future.

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More about Brad Cavanagh: I am a writer living in Dubuque, Iowa. At any given point in any day, you will find me thinking about how we might improve this world of ours. Some people might find that horribly depressing, but I don’t. I find it invigorating. I imagine all of the ways we could be better to each other, and all of the ways we could solve the problems we have created.

The Realist Idealist is my journey toward finding solutions. It is my way of discovering and sharing what could be. I am also completing my first novel, Topos, exploring the origins of and solutions to poverty.